The Need For Speed: Should You Draft Billy Hamilton?

Everywhere you look Billy Hamilton is projected not only to lead the majors in stolen bases this season, but to do so by a wide margin, making his an attractive draft day target for fantasy owners. And, why not? After all, he did steal 330 bases over the past three minor league seasons, and he gave us a glimpse of what he can do at the major league level, stealing 13 bases in 13 games last year.

But, before you bid $26 (RotoWire Auction Value), or use your fifth or sixth round pick (based on his current ADP) to get him, you may want to consider the following?

- Hamilton hit just .256 and posted a .308 OBP in Triple-A in 2013, where he stuck out nearly 20 percent of the time

- He has played in just 13 major league games

- Although he stole 13 bases in those 13 games, he was used primarily as a pinch runner, with the sole purpose of stealing bases (he only started three games, and six of his stolen bases came in games in which he didn't have a single plate appearance)

- Sixty-two percent of his stolen bases came against teams in the bottom half of the league in terms of stolen bases allowed (Pittsburgh, Houston, Milwaukee)

Using our own RotoWire projections, as well as those of eight other fantasy sources, Hamilton's 2014 season plays out as follows:

At Bats: 491
Batting Average: .246
Stolen Bases: 56

Since 2000, 18 different players have stolen 50+ bases in a season a total of 36 times. Even if Hamilton manages to stick around the majors most or all of the season, history is not on his side:

- Only one player managed to steal 50+ bases with an average of .246 or lower (Scott Podsednik, .244, 2004)

- Only one player managed to steal 50+ bases with 491 or fewer At Bats (Willy Taveras, 479, 2008)

There is no question that Hamilton can run. But, can he hit and will he be given enough opportunities to prove it? So, before you go anointing Hamilton the next Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford or even Luis Castillo, ask yourself if you can afford an untested, one-category performer and, if so, at what cost?

Happy drafting!


By: olson
On: 2/28/2014 9:04:00 PM
Curious what your eight other fantasy sources are. Rotowire projects him for 75 SB and I use five other trustworthy sources that average 70 SB.
By: rkinigson
On: 3/1/2014 8:34:00 AM
olson -- all were well known fantasy sources.

Our projection of 75 stolen bases was the highest of all nine sources, with 43 being the lowest. EPSN came in right at the average with a projection of 56 stolen bases.

But, using your research only further makes the case against Hamilton. Since 2000, a player has stolen 70+ bases in a season only three times (Scott Podsednik, 70, 2004; Jose Reyes, 78, 2007; Jacoby Ellsbury, 70, 2009), and none did it with less than 624 at bats.

Reyes hit .280 in 2007, and Ellsbury hit .301 in 2009. Few projections put Hamilton in that range.

I'm not saying Hamilton can't steal 70 bases, but I would bet against it, and am willing to let some other fantasy owner overpay to find out.
By: Chris Liss
On: 3/2/2014 12:23:00 PM
I think the argument that no players stole 70 with this few ABs or OBP isn't that persuasive. How many players who are 6-9, 250 averaged 6 assists per game in the NBA? Does that mean we should bet against LeBron? Or does it instead say what a unique talent LeBron is? Pretty clearly it's the latter. Don't you think it's likely Hamilton's SB ability is pretty unique too?
By: rkinigson
On: 3/2/2014 1:27:00 PM
Chris -- I think both James and Hamilton are unique talents. That said, a player's physical attributes are quite different than the opportunity they are afforded to achieve certain results. If LeBron was 6-8 or 7-0 I doubt it would greatly impact the number of assists he averages. But, if he were to play 10 less minutes a game, I believe it would.

I just don't believe Hamilton will be given the opportunity to steal 70+ (or even 50+) bases this season and, even if he does, fantasy owners will have to over pay to get him.

If you are looking for value while acquiring steals, I like Jonathan Villar of the Houston Astros over Hamilton. Villar has already demonstrated blazing speed in the minors, where he stole 104 bases over three seasons and, realizing that Ronny Cedeno was not the answer at shortstop, Houston gave Villar an opportunity to show what he could do at the major league level, stealing 18 bases in 54 games.

So why do I like his chances more than those of Hamilton, who is expected to put up similar numbers in batting average, runs and runs batted in? The answer comes back to opportunity and the teams for which they play.

Since 2008, Houston has been in the top half of the league in stolen bases every season, despite having only one player steal 30+ bases each year with the exception of 2011, when Jason Bourgeois stole 31 and Michael Bourn stole 39 before being dealt to Atlanta. The Reds, on the other hand, have been in the bottom half of the league four out of six of those years, barely cracking the top half the other two seasons (#15 in 2010, #14 in 2009), despite having the likes of Drew Stubbs (30+ steals in 2010, 2011 and 2012).

In other words, the Astros like to run and the Reds do not. This makes sense. With Hamilton batting leadoff, his job is to get on base and let the big bats bring him around to score. Other than Hamilton, every batter in the Reds’ lineup is projected to hit double-digit home runs, with at least three (Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Todd Frazier) hitting 20 dingers each. As a result, Hamilton may have the brakes put on more often than not, as to not take the bat out of the hands of these hitters.

Conversely, Villar should bat ninth. He showed good plate discipline (10 percent walk rate) and, once on base, will be expected to move into scoring position for the top of an Astros batting order projected to have just one 20+ home run hitter (Chris Carter). Sure, Villar made some mistakes last season, getting caught stealing eight times, but he should improve as he becomes more comfortable on the base paths, and the Astros are more likely to give him the green light.

With all else being relatively equal, shortstop is a thinner position than outfield, increasing Villar’s value over Hamilton. And, with a RotoWire auction value of $19 (compared to $26 for Hamilton), and an ADP of round 15 to 18 (compared to round 5 or 6 for Hamilton), Villar is the better value for acquiring stolen bases this season.
By: kennruby
On: 3/3/2014 3:15:00 PM
Persuasive arguments Rick. I'm certainly not paying what it costs to get Hamilton this year. One thing to bring up though is the Reds have a new manager this year, so I don't put a lot of stock into the fact that the "Reds do not" like to run, as we have no idea what the new regime will do. Not to mention that how much a team likes to run often is intimately connected to their roster. When you have Hamilton on your roster, you like to run.

Still, even if he gets 60+ stolen bases - and I think we all agree he has the talent to get 'em - I don't think he'll do enough else to to justify his price tag. I've got a $1 Eric Young kept from last year that makes me a lot happier. He could get 35 SB for a buck while Hamilton gets 80 for 25 bucks. Is 45 extra steals worth 24 bucks? Maybe…but I don't think he's going to sniff 80. Not this year.
By: rkinigson
On: 3/3/2014 4:22:00 PM
Kenn -- I agree with you. Use that $24 on a Desmond Jennings, who will give you 30 stolen bases along with 20 home runs.
By: kennruby
On: 3/3/2014 6:26:00 PM
Agree on that last point, though I admit most people won't be able to get Young for a buck, so maybe it's not a good example.
By: Chris Liss
On: 3/3/2014 7:41:00 PM
I agree that Hamilton might not get as many opportunities to steal, but he can do more with less than anyone you mentioned. He stole 13 bases last year in three starts. The argument that others with similar opportunity didn't do it neglects the possibility that his talent is unique.

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